RAISING the profile of rugby league, increasing the Keighley Cougars’ presence in the town, and encouraging children to turn away from their smartphones in favour of sport are just three things on the agenda for the Keighley Cougarmania Foundation in 2022.

Established in March 2020, the same month the coronavirus pandemic first shut the country down, the foundation has had to deal with many hurdles since its formation.

But following the success of their very own Rugby League World Cup tournament last month, general manager Joe O’Keefe is confident of a positive future.

The tag rugby tournament, which ran for six weeks, featured 480 Year 5 pupils from 12 schools across Keighley and the local area and has been widely praised by all involved.

Teams competed under the names of countries who will take part in the actual Rugby League World Cup at the end of this year, with St Joseph’s Cook Islands taking home the crown after narrowly beating Our Lady of Victories’ England in the final at Keighley Albion.

News of the tournament even made the House of Commons, after Keighley & Ilkley MP Robbie Moore made glowing reference to it in a discussion about the need to support grassroots sport in the UK.

“The response to the tournament has been fantastic, the children loved it and I’ve had a lot of positive emails from the schools involved,” O’Keefe explained.

“We haven’t got the resources that the club had during the Cougarmania years, the players are semi-pro now instead of full-time, so it was difficult to service 12 schools for six weeks, to say the least.

“A lot of the Cougars staff, including (head of media and administration) Josh Chapman bailed me out a lot with that and ran some fantastic sessions for the children.

“It was great to see so many happy faces, and it would be fantastic to do something like that again.

“The whole thing was a massive success and we can only hope for more of that over the coming year.”

Continuing the positive momentum generated from the tournament is a priority for the foundation in 2022, as they look to roll back the years and recreate the ‘Cougarmania’ that swept through the town in the 1990s.

“I’ve lived and worked in Keighley all my life and I am a great believer in the town,” O’Keefe added.

“The town and its demographic have changed in the 30 years since Cougarmania.

“In those days everybody knew about the club, and now there’s a lot of people that don’t know the Cougars exist.

“There’s around 90,000 people in Keighley at the moment and just over a thousand of them come down to watch the Cougars. Looking at the population, there should be far more.

“Keighley Cougars should be a focal point in our town, and we’re working hard to make that the case again.”

Lockdowns, coupled with the ever-changing restrictions and a lack of funding, have threatened to halt the foundation’s activities, but the charity is keen to push on and is committed to not only introducing children to sport but to helping the wider community.

O’Keefe said: “It’s been really difficult establishing a proper service and foundation in Keighley.

“People think the new Cougars foundation has been running for a few years, but it only really started in July.

“The 2022 season is an exciting time for the club, and we feel that it is the right time to branch out into the community, whether it is engaging the youngsters in sport or through the mental health project we are looking to introduce at the end of this month.

“It would be great to have schools come down to Cougar Park so that the children can go somewhere different, whether it’s to help with their behaviour or give them a safe place to come and take their minds off things.

“We need to walk before we can run, but eventually I want people to be aware that the Cougars foundation is there for them.”

If you are interested in working with the Cougarmania Foundation, please contact Joe O’Keefe by emailing joe@cougarmania.co.uk